Apr 16th

2008

On Design Series: Alignment

If you’re following the On Design series you know we’re half-way through making your promotional design look like CRAP. If you’re not following this, I suggest you start at the beginning. We’re looking at basic design through the helpful lens of Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity in hopes that we can make our design efforts a little less haphazard.

The principle of Alignment implies that strong lines lead the eye better than random, weak ones. The surest sign of someone who has just started doing their own design work is the way in which they fearlessly ignore any semblance of a straight line, and run straight to centre-justification as their design panacea. Centre-justification has its place, but it ought to be used for a reason, not for lack of further creative options. Using centre-justified type immediately destroys most chance of using strong lines to lead the eye, and limits your options in laying out other elements. Here are two business card layouts, one using centre justification, the right. Which one is stronger? (I’ve added a guide to each so you can better see the alignment – click the thumbnail to enlarge it)

cardsalign

Notice how the card on the right uses alignment to form a strong vertical line down the card, even aligning with the subject – this line allows you to guide the viewer’s eyes without resistance or confusion. The harder it is for your prospects to quickly ingest the impact and information you are providing them, the easier it will be for them to put the piece down and forget you.

Let’s do another one with a few more elements.

alignedpostcard

This postcard uses a few more implied lines to make a stronger, more cohesive design than it would have been without them. Notice how the headline is aligned along the dog’s gaze, how the positioning statement below it is aligned on both the left and right of the headline and how all the type aligns on the right and down past the dog’s nose on the bottom.

You should also by now notice how the other CRAP elements come into play – the strong contrasts, the repetition of several elements, and the alignments all make for a strong, professional looking piece. So does the proximity of related elements, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves now. We’ll handle that tomorrow. Lastly notice how we moved from high impact/low information to high information/low impact as we moved from left to right and from top to bottom.

Exercise. Pick up an old magazine, grab a sharpie, and go through the full-page ads – take notice of the alignments the designers have used and draw guides like the ones I have done above. Some will only have one or two – simple design is not simplistic, or weak, design. But find every strong line, really work it. Do this for about 30 ads and you’ll start to have a stronger sense of alignment.

(Unlike the other fake-o examples, these are drawn from some playing around I’ve been doing for one of my own businesses, so the usual copyright warnings apply to these. )

Comments (1)
  1. April 16, 2008 at 4:30 am

    This has been a very helpful series. I can’t wait to mark up every magazine in the house.